Habit #5 Seek to understand , then to be understood

Posted on August 17, 2018 by Aisah in Be Better,Books

Habit #5 Seek to understand , then to be understood

Habit 5 in the book 7 habits of highly effective people is basically about communication. It says: “Seek to understand and then to be understood” Why do we have to practice that? Most of us are scripted in the fact that we want to be understood first and in that process do not try to  first understand. We listen to reply and we should shift that to “listen to understand” and then be understood.

Levels of listening

Seeking to understand basically comes down to listening. According to the book we typically listen on one of four levels:

  • We ignore: We actually don’t listen
  • We pretend: We say “huh-huh” but are not really getting all of it (Like when a child chatters about)
  • We listen selectively: We listen with the intend to reply, or listen to the voices in our head to say what we want to say instead of what the other person is saying, or we are looking at our phone
  • We listen attentively: We focus energy on what is being said, but only on what is being said.

Emphatic listening

Other than the four levels we see here there is actually a fifth level and that is emphatic listening. This level of thinking takes skill and practice to master. It is like attentive listening , but we not only focus on what is being said, we also “listen” to the other signals the person is giving. All of this is with the intention to understand. Some characteristics of emphatic listening are:

  • You try to get in the other person’s frame of mind. For instance you look at something and you may see a six, but he sees a 9 because he is on the opposite of you.
  • You have empathy. However. Don’t confuse it with sympathy. Sympathy is a form of agreement and is sometimes the appropriate response, but it makes people too dependent. The essence of empathy is not really in agreeing with someone but that you fully understand that person emotionally and intellectually.
  • You look also at the person’s body language and your intuition . According to experts only 10% of our communication is represented by words. 30% is represented by sounds and 60% by body language.
  • You have true desire to understand the other person (This is very important!)
  • You have something in the emotional bank-account in your relationship with the other person.
  • Some skill in responding appropriately. There are four levels to this in increasing level of skill
    • You mimic what the other person is saying. Ex.
      • Other person says: “I hate school”
      • You say: ”You hate work”
    • You rephrase
      • Other person says: “I hate school”
      • You say: “You don’t enjoy school”
    • You reflect feeling of the other person
      • Other person says: “I Hate school”
      • You say: “You are unhappy”
    • You reflect feeling of the other person and rephrase
      • Other person says: ”I hate school”
      • You say: “You are unhappy with school and maybe want to leave it”

To be understood yourself

The book says if you authentically and truly try to understand the other person with empathic listening, the other person will open up to you.  Then there is  opening for you to be understood. However you have to keep in mind. If you want to be understood you have to

  • You have to take the time to understand the other person
  • The other person trusts you based on previous encounters or feels your authenticity
  • You have a good logical argument

Habit 5 “Seek to understand then to be understood”.

Did you enjoy the summary?

Until next time friends

With a twinkle and a smile,




Excercise to habit 5

Select a relationsip where you feel things should be going better. Try to understand and write down the situation from the other person’s view. In your next interaction. Listen for understanding. How valid were your assumptions? Did you really understand that person?




A fellow-traveler of life figuring out the way. I like to share little nuggets of wisdom i found on this journey. blogger coder baker mom of 2


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